How often do you see an ink pen reverse-engineered into a piece of electronic technology?
Toshiba is reportedly close to releasing a new printer that uses toner based on the ink in the Pilot FriXion – ink that is thermo-sensitive, disappearing when heat is applied.
The idea is that you will be able to reuse printer paper over and over (up to 5 times per sheet, according to some sources) because the printer actually erases the toner from the previous copy and prints over it.
If you haven't used a Pilot FriXion before, the way it works is this: The ink is a specially formulated gel that fades when exposed to temperatures above 140F (60 C). In the case of the pen, the heat comes from the friction – get it? – of rubbing the pen's eraser tip over the ink.
The Toshiba apparently uses the same type of ink, in toner form, for its printing. The printed sheet can then be fed back into the printer, where it is exposed to a heated plate that causes the ink to disappear. The resulting blank page can then be overprinted with something else.
Any notes made on the printed page with a Pilot FriXion would also disappear.
We're huge fans of the FriXion, especially the retractable, but one issue we've always had with the pen is that its ink tends to look washed-out when compared to other gels, such as the Pilot G2. Presumably, that's a result of the chemistry required to make the ink sensitive to heat.
Those who have seen the Toshiba – available initially with only blue ink – in use are reporting similar results on printed pages. The erased text is also still faintly visible, which can also happen with the FriXion. (And don't forget, the thermo-sensitive ink can be revived after 'erasure' by cooling it to 14F, or -10C.)
However, erasable inks have limited uses which prevent them from being used on important documents, so weak-colored ink or marks that aren't completely erased likely won't matter on the documents for which it is used.
Apparently, Toshiba, which expects to release the printer at the end of the year, hasn't settled on pricing for the machine or toner yet. Buyers probably shouldn't expect huge savings, though, because while they will save on paper, the biggest cost associated with printers is the toner, not the paper.
We're just thrilled to see pen technology being incorporated into other devices. One thing we don't know is how this cross-over came about, so if anyone from Pilot or Toshiba is reading, please get in touch and tell us more.